Tag Archives: Israel

Sukkot and its pagan-like customs

I’ve grown accustomed to hearing, year after year, that “Sukkot is the hardest holiday to explain to outsiders”, or the o-so-popular “if a non Jew saw us shaking our Lulavim he’d think we were all pagans”. A popular answer is the standard default of “we do it because Hashem commanded us even if it looks strange”, or better yet, “even more so because it is strange”.

I cannot accept these kinds of answers.
1. I refuse to accept that Torah and Mitzvot are some sort of test, which is the foundation of these types of answers. I don’t observe Mitzvot in order to prove anything to anyone – other nations, other Jews, myself or even God. (For a short piece on why I am observant see here)
2. I completely disagree that there is anything odd or strange in the observances of Sukkot. Only a Judaism that has lost touch with its own origins could say such a thing. Torah is rooted in the life of a nation in its land. The three major holidays revolve around agricultural. They may have a historical element to them as well (Shavu’ot less so as expressed here) but their celebrations are primarily agricultural. Throughout exile, these elements were downplayed or forgotten altogether to the point where we are uncertain how engaging with nature on the most fundamental level could possibly fit with Torah.
And I say – few things make more sense than connecting to Hashem through the embracement of nature. We leave our artificial, man made, houses and lives and surround ourselves with those of Hashem’s. We surround ourselves with nature, we touch nature, we smell nature and it is all a Mitzvah. Doing nothing at all in the Sukkah is a Mitzvah not just because “Hashem said we should do it”, rather because, if you view nature as a place where Hashem dwells and reveals himself than by embracing it you are embracing Him (fulfilling a Mitzvah). Sukkot reveals that, sometimes, you can connect to Hashem even by just being You.
Maybe this can only be done after the purging of Rosh Hashan and Yom Kippur but, non the less, it reveals the possibility of engaging the divine without all the regular “hoopla”, rather by just getting in touch with the most fundamental aspects of existence – (our) nature itself.
Imagine how sincere such a natural/holly שמחה of מצווה such an approach would evoke and produce!
חג שמח!


Leave a comment

Filed under Chagim/Holidays, Israel, Israel and Galut, Zionism

What is a Good Winter?

This is a Good Winter.

In Israel, a good winter is defined by how much rain and snow doescome down. The more rain – the better.
Israel is probably one of the only countries in the world that even during an intense national election campaign, every news report also includes statistics about rainfall.
The Torah mentions, over and over again, how rainfall should be seen as a reflection of national behavior.
You don’t have to be a religious Jew to be affected by this. For some, it’s a matter of knowing that the crops will be well watered, for others, the hope that water prices will go down but the bottom line is – there is a lot of rain, everyone is aware of it and – it’s a big deal. Just like the Torah says it should be.
Anyone following the national mood in Israel these days knows that there is a general feeling of optimism: the borders are quiet, we are celebrating our democracy and – there is an abundance of rain (and snow. Even in Dimona!).

Some statistics about the Kinneret and this winter, to whet your appetite (all measurements are metric and based on BSL-below sea level):

General information
Top Red Line – The maximum height the Kinneret can reach        -208.8    BSL
Bottom Red Line – No pumping allowed b/c of damage to lake   -213       BSL
Black line –           Lowest the Kinneret has been (In 2001)                -214.87 BSL
Annual average that the lake rises                                                           1.57 meters
This winter
Height at beginning of winter                                                                    -212.435 BSL
Height on January 10, 2013                                                                          -211.2    BSL
Gone up so far                                                                                                  1.23 meters

Will go up (without any additional rainfall)                                         1.98 meters        Even if not a single other drop comes down this winter the Kinneret will still rise an additional 2.5cm per day, for 30 day, from the surrounding rivers and streams.

This is already the strongest and best winter since 1991. Keeping in mind that the official “rainy months” in Israel are January-February, there is room for even more optimism.
These are good times to recognize the blessing of Hashem and feel proud at what is happening in Israel these days. May we feel – and be – part of it always.

Good Winter to all of Am Yisrael!

Leave a comment

Filed under Israel

Exilic Chanukah Vs. Israeli Chanukah

Between the two miracles of Chanukah (the oil and the victory), the more important one is unquestionably the victory. This is evidenced by the fact that it is the one we give thanks for. That is the one we couldn’t live without. The miracle of the oil isn’t that miraculous. There are many, far more miraculous events in our history without a holiday. The oil miracle is more an idea (hence, we study it). But, what is that idea?
The common answer is that it represents the battle between physicality and spirituality The Greeks were all about materialism and the physical while the Jews were all about the spiritual. The Greeks tried to rob us of our spirituality and convert us to materialism and physicality. The miracle of the oil demonstrates the laws of nature and the material world being broken to show the dominance of spirituality. A perfect message for life in exile. Torah=spirituality, the world=physicality. Torah > world.
That is why the miracle of oil became so central in the exile.
But, the truth is that the miracle of the oil was secondary. We don’t even mention it in על הניסים. The battle was about our obligation and right to live a physical life infused by spirituality and holiness. That’s why the decrees were ones involving action: don’t circumcise, don’t rest on Shabbat, don’t purify in a Mikve etc… all of which represent the holiness of the physical.
The Greeks saw the physical and spiritual as separate and contradictory. Chanukah comes to show that they are not inherently separate, rather are both vessels for a deeper meaning and purpose – holiness.
That is what the miracle of the oil demonstrates and the victory miracle embodies – the ability of the physical to be “stretched” and hold more than just physicality; that the physical is a vessel for more.

That is the difference between an exilic and redemptive understanding of Chanukah as well as the key to understanding the past century of Zionism… 

Leave a comment

Filed under Chagim/Holidays, Israel and Galut